Tuesday, April 1, 2014
When St. John’s Christian Academy athletic director and basketball coach Bob Winters decided the 2013-2014 school year would be his last, he had no idea his final year patrolling the hoop sidelines for the Cavaliers would produce his best team and closest shot at grabbing the brass ring of a state championship, nor did he have any idea at how devastating his team’s final game would be.
“Just awful,” he said of the defeat.
And then added appropriately, “Devastating.”
The last second, 45-foot shot that denied his Cavaliers a chance at a state championship against eventual SCISA champ Christian Academy of Myrtle Beach abruptly slammed the door on a career that has spanned two generations.
“We led for the entire game, right up until the final second on the clock when the shot fell,” Winters said.
Perhaps the youngest head basketball coach ever at age 22, Winters will retire in June as unofficially, the oldest SCISA coach in the state at 70.
The reality that the end is drawing near has hit a little too close to home since he made the announcement official.
There were tears in his eyes as he spoke, as much from the reality that the end of this road drew near as the way his final game as a coach ended.
“This year’s team had a real shot at winning a state championship,” he said.
Winters storied career also included a seven-year stint at Berkeley where he was named the Post and Courier Coach of the Year in 1985.
“My first years at Berkeley we struggled because the situation existed that the best athletes played football but didn’t come out for basketball,” he said. “After a couple of years this changed and we began to develop some great two-and-three-sport athletes, and our success in basketball was greatly enhanced.”
According to Winters this happened in the form of 6-5 230-pound center Rodney Mack, a player he called the best high school player he had ever seen.
“Rodney averaged over 27 points a game his senior year over 29 games which means he scored 800 points his senior year and I never saw him take a bad shot.
“He absolutely ruled the backboard,” Winters said, “He got just about every available rebound, dunked with three guys hanging on him, would knock opponents down and extend his hand to help them up and smile. He could outlet pass on the break just like Wesley Unseld.”
Mack led the Stags to a region title in 1985 and a deep run in the state tournament to the semi-finals before losing to eventual undefeated state champion Sumter.
Winters’ coaching career began at Newberry College after playing as a walk-on his first three years.
“I was a walk-on, non scholarship player when I enrolled in the fall of 1962, but by the time I graduated I was on a full athletic scholarship.”
How Winters landed that scholarship was a one-of-a-kind story: “Nield Gordon became the Newberry Coach in 1963 and I played for him as a sophomore and junior. During my junior year in 1964, Coach Gordon asked me if I wanted to help him coach the team. The deal was that he would put me on full scholarship, if I would stop playing and start coaching.”
Winters jokingly added he was probably the only player in the history of college athletics who was awarded a scholarship to stop playing.
“Where Coach needed help the most was with scouting opponents so I accepted the deal and my parents were very pleased about the financial end of it.
“Coach had a lot of confidence in my opinions about both opponents and potential recruits,” Winters said. “The next year we added a freshman team schedule and I began actually coaching a team as well as my other duties so I was earning my scholarship money.” After earning his masters at Appalachian State Winters landed his first head coaching job at Greenville’s Parker High School,
“I was 22 years old, probably the youngest AAAA head coach ever in South Carolina,” Winters said. “Success was not immediate but we kept getting better, and my last year at Parker we finished the season 21-1.”
Stops along the 48-year ride in addition to Berkeley included a three-year stint as an assistant coach at the College of Charleston, when Winters was invited to join the staff when Coach Alan LeForce took the head coaching job there in 1971.
“I have always been kind of proud of the way I got into college coaching as I didn’t know Coach LeForce at all,” Winters said. “He asked me to join him based solely on how my team played.”
Winters returned to Ohio after three seasons with the Cougars to coach at Champion High School in Warren, Ohio, and after three seasons there moved on to Washington High School, the same school that produced Hall of Fame football coach Paul Brown.
Winters remained there until moving back to the Palmetto State in 1978 to begin his stint with the Stags.
Winters decided at the start of the 2009-10 school year it was time to make coaching basketball a family affair when he was named head basketball coach and athletic director at St. John’s Christian Academy where his kids Bobby and Anne had attended since sixth grade.
“As Bobby began to grow up I started coaching his Upward team and got to know Eric Denton and got involved with SJCA as the JV boy’s coach.
“One thing led to another and I was offered the position of basketball coach and athletic director.”
It didn’t take long for Winters to put his footprint on the Cavaliers’ basketball program, leading SJCA to a SCISA region championship in his first season as coach, despite suffering a stroke during the basketball season.
Winters called the three years he was able to coach his son the greatest honor of his coaching career.
“The three years Bobby played for me on the varsity are the high point of my career,” he said. “We shared a passion for the game and Bobby became a very reliable, team-oriented player that I was proud to coach.”
The younger Winters helped lead his team to a 23-7 record his senior year and was named to the SCISA All-State Team. “It was my highest honor to be able to coach my son and I will always be deeply indebted to Eric Denton and the folks at St. John’s Christian Academ for allowing me to be the coach here.”
Winters calls SJCA the perfect place to finally hang up the whistle and playbook for good.
“When I became the coach here I wanted SJCA to be among the elite basketball programs in SCISA and with two final four appearances in a two year period I think that I can say, ‘mission accomplished.’”
Winters called his coaching career a blessing.
“I was able to coach in college, I was successful at every place I coached in two different states, got to coach my son and got to do something I loved until I was 70 years old.
“I have been truly blessed and am thankful to God for looking after me and giving me a chance to pursue my dreams.”
As for regrets?
Even with last second shots denying his team a shot at that coveted state title, Winters replied with an emphatic, “NONE!”